Migrants, who are currently being sent back to their respective countries through Niger, were arrested in Algiers last week and then regrouped in a centre on the borders of Tamanrasset, a Saharan town more than 2,000 km away in the south of the capital city. Among them were asylum-seekers and families who had lived and worked in Algiers for years.
Since 1st December 2016, Algerian authorities have gathered more than 1,500 sub-Saharan migrants and expelled at least several hundred of them towards Niger, denounces this Friday, December 9th, the NGO Human Rights Watch. The security forces grouped the migrants in Algiers before taking them by bus to Zeralda, transferring them since 2nd December to Tamanrasset and then expelling some to Niger. Before the transfer to Zeralda, the authorities reportedly arrested migrants at home and at their workplace, the NGO said. Among the migrants brought to Tamanrasset, some are refugees and asylum seekers. Others have worked for years in Algeria. Human Rights Watch does not know if some of these migrants are among those who have been deported. “A mass summary expulsion of migrants, including women and children, who may have fled the persecution or worked for years in Algeria, would violate their rights,” warned Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and Africa director Human Rights Watch. On December 6th, Human Rights Watch
said that it had reached by telephone two men who were part of the second convoy transferred from Zeralda to the south. These two men would have made the same account of the conditions of their arrest and transfer. They asserted that the authorities had not sought to know their situation or to inform them of their rights. The NGO recalls that Algeria is a signatory to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. The Convention includes the principle of non-refoulment, which prohibits the expulsion of a refugee to a country where His life or his freedom would be endangered. A refugee legally present in the territory may be expelled in the event of a threat to national security or public order, but the Convention requires that the State give refugees the opportunity to challenge the decision.
The Algerian authorities have spoken for the first time on this subject, through the Algerian Red Crescent (CRA), in charge of the file. They refuse to talk about expulsion. “This is not forced departure but voluntary return to their country,” defends Saïda Benhabylès, president of the CRA. “We are repatriating Nigerians at the request of their government. As for migrants from other nationalities, they were the ones who asked us to take them home. No migrant was forced to leave Algerian territory, “she said, adding that more than 18,000 Nigerians have been repatriated since 2014, in agreement with Niamey. Nearly 2,000 sub-Saharan migrants are concerned by this new group of repatriation, according to the president of the CRA.
This procedure was caused following clashes between Algerians and migrants, which took place at the end of November in the district of Dely Brahim in Algiers because of the higher unemployment rate. Then the police arrested over a thousand migrants from West Africa and gathered them in a holiday centre in the western suburbs before taking them to Tamanrasset.
“It is for the protection of the Algerians, who live close to the slums housing sub-Saharan nationals, the security of the migrants and the maintenance of order that we considered it useful to launch a procedure of repatriation towards Tamanrasset, explains Saïda Benhabylès. The reception conditions are better in Tamanrasset and there is more room. ”
But according to Algerian associations, the migrants arrived in Tamanrasset are housed in prefabricated and unhealthy attics.
African migrants who are not yet expelled are grouped in a camp on the western peripheries of Algiers.
Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights said that migrants, most of them from West Africa, were apprehended at their homes by police Thursday in Algiers.
The Algerian League for the defence of Human Rights deplores the presence of pregnant women and children among the persons concerned.
There would be wounded among migrants, according to the League of Human Rights, but the information has not yet been confirmed by the government.
The last convoy in the direction of the border between Algeria and Niger is scheduled for Thursday.
The Algerian government had announced this operation since September.
Mamadou Dian Donghol Diallo.